$750,000: Aviation Insurance Company Pays Over Ten Years After Airplane Disappeared

CASE DESCRIPTION:  Plaintiff brought suit to recover insurance policy limits from a plane crash that involved her father, husband, and son.  Originally the plane disappeared and could not be found by any search parties.  The plane wreckage was finally discovered eight years after its disappearance.  The Defendant raised issues regarding statute of limitations and disputed the policy coverage.

RESULT:  $750,000 total settlement

On August 5, 1983 a Mooney aircraft flown by Father of Plaintiff, April W., and carrying James H. [husband] as well as Grant H. [son], disappeared during a flight from the Grand Canyon to Fullerton.  A search was initiated and after 12 days with no trace, the search was ended.  On November, 14, 1991, during a search for another “downed” aircraft, searchers came across the wreckage and remains of Plaintiffs’ Decedents.

Plaintiff contended the crash was caused as a result to pilot error due to disorientation during a night time flight.  Plaintiffs relied on “res ipsa loquitur.”  Plaintiffs further contended that the statute of limitations had not run due to the fact that the complaint was filed within one year of the date that the court had ordered that the missing persons be adjudged presumed deceased (despite that this was over six years after the plane was first reported missing.)  Plaintiffs further contended that the policy on the airplane was in the sum of $1,000,000 (with no per seat limitation).

Defendants contended that the statute of limitations had expired due to the fact that the plane had been missing for over six years prior to the filing of the complaint.  (Under California law, a person missing for five years is presumed deceased, and the statute would run one year and thereafter.)  Defendants further contended that the policy limits were $100,000 per seat.  Defendants brought a Motion for Summary Judgment which, was denied.

TYPE OF CASE:  Aviation Crash; Wrongful Death

INJURIES:  The accident resulted in the death of James & Grant H.

DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT:  On or about 8/5/83 at or near Needles, California.

PLAINTIFF’S AGE:  Decedent James H. – 41 at time of incident.
Decedent Grant H. – 5 at time of incident.

OCCUPATION:  James H. – a house husband, a freelance writer and grocery clerk.
April W. – an attorney.
Grant H. – N/A

Richard A. Cohn & Wylie A. Aitken
For Plaintiffs – April W. & Colby H.-W., by and through his Guardian Ad Litem April W.

John Scott Hoff

For Defendants – Robert W., Estate of Robert W., Joseph R., Rawa Enterprises & Mooney Aircraft Corporation